West Sussex Religious Education Syllabus

The 2008 RE Syllabus for West Sussex

March 2007

A first draft of the new RE syllabus was presented at the last meeting of West Sussex SACRE (Standing Advisory Committee for Religious Education) in March 2007.


At the previous meeting in November 2006, the members voted unanimously that the new RE syllabus be based on the Non-statutory Framework for Religious Education (drawn up by the QCA). One of the key differences between this framework and previous RE syllabuses is the inclusion of "other (secular) worldviews". This is in the spirit of the Human Rights Act and has been encouraged by many organisations, including the Church of England.

However, at the March 2007 meeting, the majority of the members requested the removal of all references to "other (secular) worldviews" from the draft syllabus.

After voting against the election of a Humanist member to the SACRE, the meeting came to an end. The RE advisor, Nigel Bloodworth, responsible for drawing up the new RE syllabus invited me to comment on the draft syllabus, and send him my recommendations. Fortunately, I had drawn up a short list of the main recommendations, assuming that I would be able to take part in the discussion after being elected onto the SACRE. I gave them to Mr Bloodworth and promised to send more comprehensive recommendations later.

May 2007

On 15th May 2007, I sent Mr Bloodworth these recommendations. You can see them here.

June 2007

On 18th June I attended the SACRE. Draft 2 of the RE syllabus was the main item on the agenda. Ammendments to the first draft are highlighted by vertical lines in the margin. None of my recommendations were included. In fact, Draft 2 is less inclusive of secular (non-religious) wolrdviews than Draft 1; the text highlighted in red on page 10 replaces the text highlighted in green.

As before, most interest revolved around the inclusion of secular (non-religious) references. After an open discussion, the meeting broke into the four groups (C of E, Other Religions, Teachers, Councillors); as an observer, I was requested to leave the meeting (presumably because members might say something to embarrass the WSCC, as at previous meetings).

On my return, groups had to vote on the various ammendments to Draft 1. Predictably, virtually every member wanted to reduce the inclusion of secular (non-religious) worldviews in the new draft; the word "many" was deleted, shown in blue on page 10.

Thankfully, the steering committee ignored the overwhelming requests from the previous meeting to withdraw all references to secular worldviews; to do so would have been farcical, seeing as the new syllabus is supposed to be based on the Non-statutory Framework for RE.

The other issue that attracted attention was the RE requirement for pupils aged 16-18. The government requires all pupils in locally maintained schools to receive RE throughout their education, i.e. up to 18 years of age. Draft 2 included a statement that this provision should be of at least 6 to 8 hours per year. Currently, virtually every secondary school in West Sussex does not comply, for practical reasons.

The British Humanist Association considers the Non-statutory Framework for Religious Education to be a small step towards the inclusion of secular (non-religious) worldviews in RE. By approving the ammendments to Draft 2, WSCC has further weakened the new syllabus, despite clear statistical evidence that a high proportion (probably the majority) of residents in West Sussex are not religious. Schools in West Sussex can only infer that there is no need to include secular (non-religious) worldviews in RE. WSCC have paid the minimum possible lip service to inclusion and continue to encourage religious divisiveness.

The revised Draft 2 will now be sent to a selection of schools for feedback.

I sent the RE advisor, Nigel Bloodworth, an email regarding the new syllabus. You can read the email and his reply here. Point 5 of his reply conveniently ignores the earlier set of recommendations I gave him at the previous meeting in March. The last sentence sums up the attitude of WSCC to inclusion "I think it unikely that we will go beyond the non-statutory guidance. " In other words, we will do the bare minimum to comply. But, as you can see above, even that has been watered down.

November 2007

School feedback supports the new syllabus, with only one or two exceptions.

The OFSTED report Making Sense of Religion was considered. This highlights weaknesses in RE, and the need for SACREs to promote social cohesion, diversity and citizenship. One member was skeptical about the aims of the government and wrongly interpreted a quotation contained in the report. Coincidentally, this quotation should not have been contained in the report; I sent OFSTED an email about this and am awaiting a reply (see report for details).

The RE advisor said that more time would be needed to digest the implications of the OFSTED report on the local RE syllabus, particularly regarding social cohesion. It therefore seems likely that the 2008 syllabus will not address social cohesion, which of course would need the inupt of Humanist ideas.

The Bahai representative asked if 9 "other religions" (than C of E) could be mentioned in the syllabus, rather than the existing 6. It was agreed that they could be named, but that they would not be mandatory. Of course, Humanism was not mentioned, even though those holding non-religious worldviews outnumber all 9 religions put together.

March 2008

The Agreed Syllabus Conference (ASC) was convened using the SACRE members. This meeting had to decide whether to adopt the proposed new syllabus.

Nigel Bloodworth, RE advisor and chief author, pointed to three changes in the draft syllabus since the last meeting. One of these refers to Humanism (the only reference in the entire syllabus):

... it is recommended that there are opportunities to consider ... secular philosophies such as Humanism

This is a small but significant step forward.

Unfortunately, there are other obvious places where Humanism has not been mentioned, e.g. at every Key stage:

Breadth of Study. During the key stage, pupils should be taught, where appropriate, ... a secular world view.

It is still unclear what is meant by the phrase "where appropriate". In a reply to an email sent in June 2007, Nigel Bloodworth said that they "might include guidance in the support materials, if they thought it was helpful". I recently spoke to the Curriculum Advisor from QCA who said that he could not think of a single instance of where teaching a secular worldview would be inappropriate in a community school (QCA wrote the Non-Statutory Framework for RE and only intended the term "where appropriate" to be considered by the SACRE rather than by individual community schools!).

Attention was then drawn to a list of support material for teachers. This does not contain any Humanist material. I previously sent Nigel Bloodworth a list of suitable materials and hope that he will include some of them.

I was then asked to leave the room whilst the members discussed the syllabus in their four groups. On my return, the vote for the new syllabus was unanimous.

The syllabus will be in force from September 2008. It will be formally presented at Oathall Community College in October. SACRE members and their colleagues are invited to celebrate the new syllabus. I was not invited, which is just as well, seeing as there is little for the non-religious to celebrate.

The Chair ended the session saying that they had started with a blank canvas and had learned a lot along the way. Unfortunately, they had not learned how to include the non-reigious.

This new syllabus will last 5 years. During this time, WSCC will have to show that they are promoting community cohesion in their schools (under recent DCSF guidance). One way in which this can be fulfilled is through including Humanism in the syllabus. Mentioning Humanism just once in the syllabus is clearly insufficient.

Furthermore, recent equalities legislation makes discrimination based on religion and belief an offence. If schools do not teach children about beliefs other than religion, this could be construed as a form of discimination. As the QCA points out, the Non-Statutory Framework for RE is consistent with this new legislation.

Let's hope that addiional guidance and materials are forthcoming. Schools will not change unless there is positive guidance from WSCC.

16th June 2008

It was announced that the new new RE syllabus is being sent to press. The Chair has written a draft Forward, which includes the statement "the syllabus is a collaboration of parents and faith communities.". She does not mention secular belief groups, such as Humanism, because there was no formal collaboration with them; there is only a token mention of them in the syllabus.

The RE advisor announced that there had been a 50% take up of teacher training for the new syllabus. The draft materials he presented did not clarify when it was appropriate to teach secular world views.

The members were then asked to scan the new syllabus and make comments. After a few minor comments, the Chair stated that they wanted to reflect the whole community. This is quite incredible, bearing in mind that somewhere between 17% and 64% of people either have no religion or do not practise one (these statistics are taken from the 2001 census and other independent surverys).

The launch of the new syllabus will take place in October at Oakhall Community College. SACRE members, schools communities, young people and members of the public are invited. Regular SACRE observers, such as myself, are also invited. NOTE: I have sent an email to the RE advisor declining the offer, as the presence of a BHA representative would signify an endorsement of the new syllabus. This syllabus does not promote Humanism or secular world-views; it only advises the teaching of them "where appropriate", and offers no other guidelines or encouragement to be inclusive.


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